Aussie Whites the 'wagyus' of the prime lamb industry

New prime lamb breed has been a white hot success

Sheep Breeders Compendium
PIONEER BREEDER: Graham Gilmore and his late brother, Martin, developed a new prime lamb breed, the Australian White, on their Tattykeel stud at Oberon, NSW.

PIONEER BREEDER: Graham Gilmore and his late brother, Martin, developed a new prime lamb breed, the Australian White, on their Tattykeel stud at Oberon, NSW.

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Graham Gilmore and his late brother, Martin, developed a new prime lamb breed, the Australian White, on their Tattykeel stud near Oberon, NSW.

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Graham Gilmore and his late brother Martin developed the Australian White breed on the family's famous Tattykeel sheep stud near Oberon on the NSW Central Tablelands.

During a trip to Brazil Graham Gilmore saw a haired Santa Inêsmeat sheep and it triggered a light bulb moment.

"Why do we need wool on a meat sheep?" he thought.

Mr Gilmore returned home determined to design a new breed of sheep that put all its protein into meat rather than both meat and wool.

Faced with a long and difficult process to import Santa Inês sheep from Brazil because of foot and mouth disease, he looked around for a similar haired sheep already in Australia that could be used in the breeding mix to realise his dream.

He found what he wanted in the Van Rooy, a fat-tailed and haired sheep developed in South Africa and first imported into Australia in 1998.

Three other foundation breeds were added to a crossbreeding program - stud Poll Dorset and Texel ewes from the Tattykeel flock along with White Dorper rams.

Mr Gilmore and his late brother then used a large-scale embryo transfer program to rapidly build numbers.

They launched the new breed in 2011 and have since made many sales here and overseas.

Aussie White studs have sprung up across the country, along with an Australian White Breeders Association, as the popularity of the new breed has grown.

The Gilmores' aim was to produce a low-maintenance, haired meat sheep that could compete with the Poll Dorset second-cross lamb, the industry's benchmark.

And then they happily discovered Australian Whites had one valuable attribute they hadn't selected for - meat eating quality that was comparable to Wagyu beef.

Keen overseas demand for Australian Whites in countries like China, Mexico, the US and Costa Rica has transformed Tattykeel into an export driven business, a far cry from the Gilmore family's early days as fledgling Dorset Horn breeders.

Graham Gilmore's father, John, bought 80 hectares of scrub country in 1956 which he named "Tattykeel" in honour of the name of his ancestors' farm back in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

John and Mavis Gilmore established their Dorset Horn stud in 1959 and added a Poll Dorset stud in 1964.

The Gilmores - Graham and wife, Kirsty, and John's sons, James and Ross, and their wives, Melinda and Samantha - now operate 1700ha including 283ha at Tarcutta in southern NSW.

Their breeding flock includes about 1200 stud Australian White ewes.

A major focus now is the export of Australian White animals and embryos.

The major Tattykeel livestock breeding goal is to produce an early maturing, soft animal that gets to heavy weight quickly with sensible fat levels and only needs grain feeding in times of drought.

Mr Graham said the overall industry trend in recent years was to breed animals that were too big and ate to much feed. Some now needed grain to reach prime weights.

"If you have an animal that needs grain all the time you have a problem."

He said leading sheepmeat processor and exporter, Roger Fletcher, had succinctly summed up the problem to him in his own colourful language.

He said the sheepmeat industry had been at 10am in terms of breeding but had pushed it to 2pm when they should have stopped at midday.

Mr Gilmore said Australian Whites were self-replacing sheep and it was important the ewes didn't end up too big.

But the sheep needed plenty of body depth because that was what gave them "doing ability".

"Everybody in the show ring thinks biggest is best when in actual fact the biggest animal is very seldom the best."

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